Three generations chop

Ryan Aldridge, 14, will compete in the under 18 championships at the EKKA.

By Fiona Gowers

The Aldridge family is synonymous with the Woodchopping and Sawing competition at the Ekka, with three generations again involved in 2022.

Ryan, 14, is competing, his dad, Brett is stewarding and judging, while grandfather, Mike is an honorary council steward.

“We really enjoy the Ekka,” Brett said. “It’s a special competition for us all.”

The Aldridge family’s involvement in the sport actually began in the back bar of a pub on the NSW north coast.

Mike was visiting during the Fish and Chip Festival in 1992 when a few “old timers”, Noel McGregor, Cole Watson and Stewy Coles asked if he could help in the log yard the following day.

“Before dad had received his beer he said, ‘Sure, no worries, what time?’

“The rest is history. Over the years he has been a log steward, assistant handicapper, committee member judge.

“He has designed and built equipment and, really, helped to develop the sport.

“Some would say woodchoping is a bit like a crab pot, once you’re in you’re not going anywhere!”

Ryan was the first family member to contest a woodchop competition at Blackbutt Show when he was eight in 2017.

He had first watched the axemen compete at the Fish and Chip Festival in Brunswick Heads and was “instantly hooked”.

“He was also playing football at the time, which was hard because they are basically the same season and he would always want to ditch footy to go to a chop,” Brett said.

“Once he got his five-year medal playing foootball he then went 100 per cent chopping.

“This would have been his prime time as an under 13s entrant but, it wasn’t to be, as COVID shut the shows down for the year.

“He now has to compete in the under 18s and novice events, which is hard as you are up against much bigger kids.”

At the Ekka, Ryan will compete in the under 18 championships.

The Aldridges attend about 20 woodchop competitions per year, all within a four-hour radius of southeast Queensland.

“We did travel to the Sydney Royal Easter show this year as Ryan made the Queensland under 21 team.

“Queensland had a very young team but it was a great experience for them.”

Brett said Ryan trains for 1.5 hours before school daily and also practises chopping and sawing with Jamie Head, a current Stihl timber sports competitor, in Burpengary each Tuesday.

He said his axes range in size depending on the wood hardness but normally about 165 millimetres (6.5 inches) wide and 2.6 kilograms.

“We have many different types of axes to suit each type of wood and size block your cutting,” Brett said.

“Don’t tell the wife but I think Ryan has about 12 axes currently each worth about $600 to $800.”

Ryan chops mainly 250mm (10-inch) blocks in the under 18s but also does the 275mm (11-inch) and 300mm (12-inch) blocks.

“He has also started climbing the tree poles. He loves the tree event and hopes to be a champion tree climber in the future.

“And, like me, he has recently started to show an interest in crosscut sawing – both single-handed and double-handed sawing – with a mate.

“The two boys are going really well so, hopefully, they keep it up so they can be world champions one day!”

Taking Ryan to so many shows allowed Brett to meet other axemen who finally convinced him to try competitive sawing, which he now loves.

And for years he has stewarded and judged on the Queensland Axeman’s Associaton at local shows, the Ekka and, most recently, on the Stihl timber sports.

“I do enjoy it as you get to see the best of the best up close and be a critical part of the sport – if there are no judges there isn’t a chop,” Ryan said.

Asked what the Aldridge family loved most about woodchopping, the answer was easy.

“The competition, the friends and the lifestyle,” Brett said.

“For us, woodchoping is all about the people and the social aspect and, as they say, the good old country hospitality.”